The Xplor Store: The Forgotten Carnegie Science Center Exhibit? (Guest Post by Leigh Jerz)

The other day, my wife suggested a Carnegie Science Center-related post. Only once before — in 2003 — has she volunteered a topic like that, so I took her up on the offer.

I’ve noticed that, on every trip to the CSC, my wife slips away to browse the museum store while I’m watching the kids. Here’s what she wrote about this important part of our family trips:

After a few years, the Carnegie Science Center becomes like a familiar friend, and each visit develops a sort of ritual—starting with Dad watching the kids lay with the plastic balls in the water-jets while Mom gets the wristbands, and ending with the climbing wall in Sportsworks. In between, we visit new displays, then older ones to see if or how they’ve changed, and usually see a new Omnimax movie as well (insects, beavers, mummies, Da Vinci parachutes, tornadoes, Shackleton versus ice—whatever’s on offer!).

But one of my favorite parts of our day at the Science Center has become has become the short period of time I leave Dennis & the kids and sneak off to the Xplor Store by myself.

The first time was very quick indeed; I excused myself to go to the ladies room, then popped into the store looking for potential stocking stuffers. Then I took whatever I bought—fancy astronaut pens, holographic rulers, mini-flashlights have all come home that way—straight outside to stash in the minivan, and returned to the family as if nothing happened.  Besides, I knew if I lingered in the store, I’d probably be tempted to spend serious money.

Now I look forward to those stolen visits to the Xplor Store as much as to any other exhibit, watching how the store itself shifts and changes along with the topics of the exhibits & Omnimax movies outside of it.

I’m not really a shopaholic in general; I don’t visit stores in the local mall regularly for seasonal clothes, accessories or décor items.  But I feel like I’m recognizing the faces of the science kits along the wall, and noticing when a new face appears; I hope it’s an attraction to the educational potential on display, and the chance that perhaps I’ll absorb some new ideas to try as activities with my kids.  I have tried most sensibly to keep my purchases limited to the bags of astronaut ice cream, though we have the hex-bugs and soda-can robot kits to prove that doesn’t always work.

But, oh, there are books in there. And such books!

I have found treasures — books that have had a real impact on my scientifically-minded son, in particular—so that I have to browse the shelves each visit.  Some of our treasures:

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel (2008, Anchor Books 2009), by Michio Kaku. Something is truly, absolutely impossible if it violates the known laws of physics—and there aren’t many such things on Kaku’s list; the rest, amazing as they might sound, are only impossible until we figure out how to do them.  This book inspired my son Peter to watch many hours of DVD lectures on Einstein’s Relativity & the Quantum Revolution, “Impossible” Physics Beyond the Edge, and the Science for Tomorrow (including biomedical as well as physic topics).

Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines (W.W. Norton 2008), by Richard A. Muller, as well as The Instant Physicist: An Illustrated Guide (W.W. Norton 2011).  Another big hit with Peter, Muller’s Presidents book is perfect for an election year, providing a scientific viewpoint on public issues like the environment, space (satellites, missiles, gravity application), types of energy, and potential terrorist threats. The second book is a fun, easy read, presenting physics concepts (& misconceptions) by way of cartoons, each accompanied by a very brief explanation.

How to Survive a Robot Uprising (Bloomsbury 2005), by Daniel H. Wilson, followed by How to Build A Robot Army (Bloomsbury 2008), and Where’s My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived (Bloomsbury 2007).  My husband Dennis and son Peter read through the first Robot book together at bedtime(s) some years ago, finding underneath the humor some sensible, general info on robotics. I can’t remember if we found the book before or after we did a Robot Sleepover at CSC.  But this past year the pair participated in a rookie 4-H First Robotics program (as parent mentor & team member), and, this very morning, Peter will finish building and test a Seaperch underwater robot (from kits secured by an intrepid Eagle Scout-in-the-making). Could these books have had some influence?

Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements (Oxford 2001), by John Emsley; and similarly A Guide to the Elements, Second Edition (Oxford 1996), by Albert Stwertka.  I bought these excellent reference books during a phase when young Peter was spending a lot of time contemplating his laminated placemat of the Periodic Table. Stwertka’s Guide covers the elements from hydrogen and helium on up by atomic number; less well-known element may only get a page, while prominent elements like carbon and nitrogen are described over 5-7 pages.  Emsley’s alphabetical guide, though it lacks the small colorful inset photos of Stwertka’s, treats all the elements pretty evenly, including how they relate to economics and the human body/health.  (So Emsley, for example, told me far more about Cesium:  Did you know that this element used in self-cleaning ovens, catalytic converters, low-energy light bulbs, and red pigment for household wares & toys, has also been used to treat morning sickness, sea-sickness, and third-degree burns?!)

And these recent acquisitions, soon to be read:

The Silent Service in WWII: The Fleet Type Submarine (Periscope Film LLC, from U.S. Navy original June 1946)

Hunt and Kill: U-505 and The U-boat War in the Atlantic (Savas Beatie 2004), ed. Theodore P. Savas (autographed copy)

Steel Boats, Iron Hearts: A U-Boat Crewman’s Life Aboard U-505 (Savas Beatie 2008), Hans Goebeler with John Vanzo  (autographed)

Gray Ghost: The Story of the Aircraft Carrier Hornet (Rocklin Press 2001), by Lee W. Meredith (autographed copy)

OK, I probably got overly excited about the fact that these books were autographed. Still, my son Peter did study WWII in depth, as well as life on an aircraft carrier, during the past school year.  And I thought these books might help him get more out of the Behind-the-Scenes tour of the USS Requin which he & his dad are scheduled to take in August—their third such tour …

Read all about that when Dennis blogs it next month.

5 thoughts on “The Xplor Store: The Forgotten Carnegie Science Center Exhibit? (Guest Post by Leigh Jerz)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *